Why the State of War Continues When It No Longer Fulfils a Purpose
War has ceased to be productive of security, but the masses, whose existence depends upon the industries of production, are compelled to pay its costs and suffer its losses without either receiving compensation or possessing means to end the contradiction. Governments do possess this power, but if the interests of governments ultimately coincide with the interests of the governed they are, in the first instance, opposed to them.
Governments are enterprises—in commercial language, "concerns"—which produce certain services, the chief of which are internal and external security. The directors of these enterprises—the civil and military chiefs and their staffs—are naturally interested in their aggrandizement on account of the material and moral benefits which such aggrandizement secures to themselves. Their home policy is therefore to augment their own functions within the State by arrogating ground properly belonging to other enterprises; abroad they enlarge their domination by a policy of territorial expansion. It is nothing to them if these undertakings do not prove remunerative, since all costs, whether of their services or of their conquests, are borne by the nations which they direct.
If, now, we consider a nation as the consumer of what its government produces, we see that it is to the interest of the governed to take from government only such services as the latter is able to produce better and at a less cost than other enterprises, and to purchase what it takes at the lowest possible price. Similarly, a nation requires that an annexation of territory should result in such an enlargement of its markets as will be sufficient to enable it to recover all the costs of acquisition, besides a profit; and this profit must not be less than the returns which could have been secured by any other employment of its capital and labour.
But this relation of government and nation, as producer and consumer, is not a free market. Government imposes its services, and the nation has no choice but acceptance. Certain nations, however, possess constitutional governments, and these nations have a right of assent and of arranging the price. But despite the reforms and revolutions which have been so frequent during the last hundred years, this right has altogether failed to establish an equilibrium between the positions of consumer and purveyor of public services. More, the governments of to-day are less interested than were their forerunners to refrain from abusing the powers and resources of their nations, while the nations are also less interested in, and perhaps less capable of, guarding against such abuse.
Under the old system the political establishment, or the State, was the perpetual property of that association of strong men who had founded, or conquered, it. The members of this association, from the head downwards, succeeded by hereditary prescription to that part of the common territory which had fallen to their share at the original partition, and to the exercise of those functions which were attached to their several holdings. Sentiments of family and property, the strongest incentives known to the human race, combined to influence their action. They desired to leave to their descendants a heritage which should be neither less in extent nor inferior in condition to that which they had received from their fathers, and to maintain this ideal the power and resources of the State must be increased, or at least maintained in all their integrity. There was also a fiscal limit to the imposts which they exacted from their subjects, any overstepping of which involved personal loss, often personal danger. If they abused their sovereign power as possessors, whether by exhausting the taxable potentiality of the population or by squandering the product of an impost which had become excessive, their State fell into poverty and decay, and they themselves lay at the mercy of rivals who were only too alert and ready to seize any opportunity of enrichment at the expense of the decadent or defenceless. The governed were able to check any abuse of sovereign power on the part of government through the pressure which was exerted on the ruler by his hope of transmitting his power to his children, and by that form of competition which constituted the State of War.
Meanwhile, as external dangers decreased and a continual evolution in the machinery of warfare required yet larger expenditure, competition ceased to exert continuous pressure. Hence the measure of its stimulus declined. But at the same time the masters of States abated nothing of those imposts and services which they exacted from their subjects, but without the previous justification of danger. Hence a growing discontent sprang up in those classes whose power had advanced with their progress in the arts of industry and commerce, and this process continued until it resulted in the fall of the old order.
The chief feature which distinguishes the new order and separates it, in theory at least, from that which preceded it, is the transfer of the political establishment, of the State, to the people themselves. With it, naturally, passed that sovereign power which is inseparable from ownership of the domain and the subjects of the State. This power which was exercised by the chief, generally hereditary, of the government of the political association, and which included a power of absolute disposition over the lives and goods of subjects, was justified by the original State of War. Under the conditions which then prevailed it was essential that the chief who was responsible for the safety of a State should have unlimited powers to requisition the person and resources of every individual, and to use them in any way which he might judge good, whether for actual defence of the State or for the purpose of increasing its resources by territorial expansion. The ownership of the political establishment might pass into the hands of the nation, but the need for such a power remained. Just as long as the State of War was the dispensation which regulated the world, so long was a power of unlimited disposition over the individual, his life and goods, an essential attribute of governments responsible for national security.
But as experience had already shown how liable this delegation of the sovereign power was to abuse, it was necessary to devise measures which should ensure its proper exercise. Also, as experience showed that the nation was not able to fulfil the office of ruling itself, the theorists responsible for erecting the new order withdrew from it all powers beyond that of nominating those delegates to whom the exercise of sovereign power was to be entrusted. Such delegation involved the risk of unfaithful service on the part of those who were chosen, and it was also foreseen that discrepancies might arise between their policy and the national will, if for no other reason than their too long maintenance in power. A more or less restricted period was therefore placed upon their mandate.
Experience also foreshadowed another difficulty. Delegates are no more capable than their constituents of fulfilling the whole office of a government. It is not possible that they should organise, carry on the necessary machinery for guaranteeing external and internal security, and fulfil those other duties which, rightly or wrongly, are required of "government." The new "constitutions," then, limited the sovereign power delegated to government to the exercise of the legislative prerogative, with a further right of deputing the executive power to ministers who should be responsible to it and who should be compelled to conform their conduct, under penalty of dismissal, to the will of a majority in the assembly of delegates.
This method of dividing the sovereign power among various executive agencies was capable of many variations. In a constitutional monarchy the chief office in the State remained subject to hereditary transmission, but its occupant was declared irresponsible and his action was limited to the sole function of nominating, as responsible minister, the man chosen by the majority of the national representatives. These representatives are nominally chosen by the nation, by those members of the nation who possess political rights, but in point of fact they are no more than the nominees of associations, or parties, who contend for the position of "State-conductors" on account of the material and moral benefits which accompany the position.
These associations, or political parties, are actual armies which have been trained to pursue power; their immediate objective is to so increase the number of their adherents as to control an electoral majority. Influential electors are for this purpose promised such or such share in the profits which will follow success, but such promises—generally place or privilege—are redeemable only by a multiplication of "places," which involves a corresponding increase of national enterprises, whether of war or of peace. It is nothing to a politician that the result is increased charges and heavier drains on the vital energy of the people. The unceasing competition under which they labour, first in their efforts to secure office, and next to maintain their position, compels them to make party interest their sole care, and they are in no position to consider whether this personal and immediate interest is in harmony with the general and permanent good of the nation. Thus the theorists of the new order, by substituting temporary for permanent attribution of the sovereign power, aggravated the opposition of interests which it was their pretended purpose to co-ordinate. They also weakened, if they did not actually destroy, the sole agency which has any real power to restrain governments, in their capacity of producers of public services, from an abuse of the sovereign power to the detriment of those who consume those services.
The constitutions were, nevertheless, lavish in their promise of guarantees against this possibility, the most notable of which has, perhaps, been the power of censure vested in the press—a right which has too often proved quite barren of result. For the press has found it more profitable to place its voice at the disposal of class or party interests and to echo the passions of the moment rather than to sound the voice of reason. Nowhere has it been known to act as a curb on the governmental tendency to increase national expenditure.
Economic reasons, the advances of industry and expansion of credit, have actively furthered the same tendency. During last century industrial activity increased by leaps and bounds, and the continual advance in the wealth of nations enabled them to support charges which would have crushed any other age. The development of public credit has also provided a device by which posterity has been burdened with a continually increasing proportion of the expenditure of to-day, and, in particular the costs of war have been almost entirely defrayed thus. Nor is this all. The present generation, or at least an important and influential part of it, has been interested in the system of spending borrowed money, since they reap the entire profits which result from the consequent increase in business, but are only required to furnish a mere fraction of the funds which must ultimately redeem these liabilities.
This is the true reason why that sovereign power, which is still the attribution of government, has increased the liabilities of nations to a far greater extent than was ever known under the old order. And it has done this no less by enlarging its functions in a manner utterly contrary to sound economics, than by continuing a system of wars which are no longer justified as in any way promoting the security of civilisation.